A transit lobby group is calling on municipal politicians across the Okanagan and Shuswap to rely only the bus to get around for one week.

Mayors and city councillors are being challenged to only use the bus for their transportation needs from Jan. 19 to Feb. 4, according to an Okanagan Transit Alliance news release.

The goal is to make city councillors notice what's working in the transit system, but especially what isn't.

Local government is one set of decision-makers in the province's transit structure, the transit alliance said, and the challenge they're facing comes right before an important decision is made on transit management in Kelowna.

TransDev, a France-based company, is currently responsible for the daily management of transit in the city.

Transit workers in the city are considered underpaid compared with public systems, the alliance said, and this has led to understaffing which has led to service cuts and the company offers little transparency and accountability about how contracts are awarded and the performance of this company.

The alliance requested information about the costs, performance and contract requirements for TransDev and on both occasions, BC Transit refused to share the information.

“It is alarming that a public service, funded with public dollars, is shrouded in secrecy,” Kirstin Pulles with the transit alliance said in the release.

The contract between BC Transit and TransDev comes to an end in April of 2024, and the alliance is hoping to see the Regional District of the Central Okanagan or a wider Okanagan regional transit team take on the management of the local transit system.

“Despite reporting millions of dollars in profits in 2022, TransDev continues to underpay workers," Eric Solland with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 said in the release.

"Our training retention rate is approximately 50%. It costs around $20,000 each to train a driver, just for them to leave for other transit systems with better pay and benefits. This year alone the company has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money training drivers who can’t afford to stay.”

Elected officials in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, Penticton, Vernon, Lake Country, Summerland and Salmon Arm have all been invited to take part in this week-long challenge.

At the end of the week, a post-challenge wrap-up and celebration is set to take place at Railside Brewing in Kelowna on Feb. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

The Okanagan Transit Alliance is a local organization fighting for better transit in the Okanagan. It launched this initiative that's now endorsed by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, ATU Local 1722, Student Union Okanagan of UBC, the Okanagan Climate Hub and the KLO Neighbourhood Association.

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